I just finished writing a review for Cathy Davidson’s new book, Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way we Live Work, and Learn. I want to share some of the key points because it’s honestly one of the most interesting and relevant books I’ve read in a while.
In Now You See It, Davidson offers a counter-narrative to the argument that we are no longer able to pay attention because technology is negatively affecting how we think and act. Davidson frames her narrative around attention, claiming that the collaborative nature of new technologies can help us fill in the gaps of what we wouldn’t normally see or think.
I valued “Part Two: The Kids Are All Right” the most for its arguments about dismantling what we know and value about education. Exploring pedagogy, teaching, and assessment practices, Davidson seeks to answer the question, “What if instead of telling [students] what they should know, we asked them?” (62).
- Chapter Three, “Project Classroom Makeover,” is an argument for a decentralized, student-driven pedagogy, a new form of attention and learning, and a focus on crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is the collaborative effort to solve a problem, and it values differences, unpredictable exploration, and direct collaboration with people who are affected by the issue being explored (65).
- Chapter Four, “How We Measure,” explores assessment and alternatives to standardized testing. Davidson argues that we need to imagine assessment in ways that will measure “practical, real-world skills” such as time management, communicating with others, making sound judgments, and determining credibility (127-8).
- Chapter Five, “The Epic Win,” explores the benefits of mirroring education on real-life applications and gaming principles. Davidson stresses game play as a mode of learning, citing improvements in attention, strategy, thinking interactively, visual judgment, motor skills, short-term memory, cooperation, and team-building skills.
- Throughout this section, and the rest of the book, we see an argument for unlearning conceptions about dis/ability and which students can (and cannot) succeed within the classroom. Davidson writes, “The assumption here is that kids are being ruined by technology. They are disabled, disordered—and disorderly” (152). She reacts strongly against this assumption, arguing that there is no measurable evidence that “digital-era kids” are worse than previous generations and that all students can succeed in the twenty-first-century classroom if the curriculum is adapted to meet students’ needs.
- Ultimately, Davidson argues for a reimagining of the education system that will better prepare students for a twenty-first-century culture and workforce.
Now You See It is a must-read for composition instructors. The humanities in general, and writing programs in particular, have been slow to adopt new technological practices and participate in projects that extend beyond individually-written academic texts. Davidson argues that we must promote collaborative student projects that encourage multiple perspectives, different mediums of expression, and inquiries that extend beyond the classroom.
In order to do this, we must reconceptualize our goals for composition: Is the goal of composition to teach students how to write? Or, do we want to teach students how to think critically, to incorporate different perspectives into their arguments, to learn and practice new literacies, and to contribute their strengths to particular rhetorical exigencies?
Davidson, Cathy N. Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. New York, NY: Viking, 2011.